Scenes from Spring Training: The Diamondbacks and Rockies are impossibly spoiled

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I am writing this in the press box of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (note: here’s an explanation for that name).  I’ve been here a little over three hours, and I still haven’t wrapped my brain around it all.

The complex sits on the far northeast side of town next to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. I had saved driving directions to the joint in my phone, but I needn’t have bothered because you can see it from the freeway, miles away.  “Just drive northeast out of Phoenix until you see it jutting out from the horizon” would have been specific enough.

Driving into the complex grounds, one is immediately reminded that it’s brand new.  There were workers planting decorative cacti along the driveway and bolting up signage around the park.  Inside, there were wet paint signs on the railings along the concourses and a man barked into his walkie talkie to underlings that some unidentified installation was not how it was supposed to be and that it better get fixed before fans started arriving.  But there was nothing frantic about any of it. One gets the distinct sense that this place was well-planned and will be shipshape and in Bristol fashion when the first game is played on Saturday.

The team facilities are large and impossibly well-appointed. The Diamonbacks’ headquarters are beyond the left field wall, the Rockies’ beyond the right.  With one exception, the facilities are mirror images of each other, each housing 85,000 square feet — yes, 85,000 square feet — of training, meeting, working, swimming, and loitering space.  The one exception: the Diamondbacks thought to put a media room in their building. The Rockies neglected that detail, much to the chagrin of the scribes covering the Rockies, but I suppose the media will survive.

When I got here this morning the Rockies’ clubhouse was closed so I went over to the Arizona side. You may remember that last year I was greeted warmly by some teams, not as warmly by others.  The Diamondbacks are off the scale on the warm side. Security guards may as well have been concierges. The Dbacks’ media relations people were so accommodating that I feel like I need to buy them thank you gifts.  They pointed me in the direction of the clubhouse and the training fields and off I went.

They probably need a new word to describe the place where the players dress, because “clubhouse” doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like an upscale lounge, with indirect lighting emanating from a glowing Dbacks logo in the ceiling, thick red carpeting and handsome wooden lockers. There are video boards displaying the day’s workout plan. Players lounged in comfortable arm chairs, playing cards, eating, reading or, in a couple of cases, sleeping, all in perfect luxury. Were it not for the telltale smell of smokeless tobacco you’d never know you were in a locker room.

I made some smalltalk with a few Diamondbacks players. All of them gave off a vibe that things are very, very different on this team than it was before. Maybe part of it was the new facility, but mostly it comes down to Kirk Gibson being in charge in camp for the first time. Each player I spoke with either used the word “professional” or strongly suggested it.  Gibson isn’t just a hard nosed guy. He and his high-profile coaching staff –Don Baylor, Matt Williams, Eric Young, Charles Nagy and Alan Trammell are all walking around — have these guys believing in themselves.

Is it a valid belief?  Well, I haven’t broken down their chances yet, but I assume not. Just not enough talent here yet to compete with the rest of the NL West over the long haul of the regular season.  But boy will they be comfortable during the short haul of spring training.

I’m heading out to the practice fields. It’s way too damn nice here to be cooped up in a press box.

Report: Braves extend Kurt Suzuki

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Kurt Suzuki will wear a Braves’ uniform through the 2018 season after signing a one-year, $3.5 million extension with the club on Saturday, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal adds that the two had been in talks for weeks and Suzuki made it clear that he wanted to remain in Atlanta for the foreseeable future. The team has yet to announce the extension.

Suzuki, 33, initially signed a one-year contract with the Braves back in January. The veteran backstop stepped into a backup role behind starting catcher Tyler Flowers, but still found a way to impress at the plate with a .271/.343/.525 batting line, career-best 18 home runs and an .868 OPS through 287 PA. According to FanGraphs, Suzuki’s 2.2 fWAR makes 2017 his most valuable season since his run with the 2009 Athletics.

It’s a prudent move for the Braves, who would have lost one of their most dynamic second-half hitters to the free agent market this offseason. Entering Saturday, Suzuki is second only to Freddie Freeman with 11 homers and 1.4 fWAR since the All-Star break. His stunning comeback also confirmed the team’s decision to look outside the organization for a backup catcher, rather than turning to fellow veteran Anthony Recker behind the plate.

“On a personal level, this season exceeded my expectations,” Suzuki told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s just one of those things I can’t explain. I put a lot of work in and really didn’t have a job until late January. I got an opportunity here and took advantage of it. It was definitely a good fit.”

Mikie Mahtook is likely done for the season

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Tigers’ outfielder Mikie Mahtook is unlikely to play again this season, club manager Brad Ausmus announced Saturday. Mahtook was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left groin strain following Friday’s series opener against the Twins, when he appeared to injure himself after chasing down Byron Buxton‘s two-RBI double in the fourth.

This is the second time Mahtook has sustained a groin injury over the past month. The 27-year-old exited Friday’s game with a .276/.330/.457 batting line, 12 home runs and a .787 OPS through 379 plate appearances with the team.

With the Tigers out of contention, there’s no reason to trot out Mahtook for the remaining eight games of the regular season. The club has yet to specify a timetable for his return, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in fine shape to compete for a starting role next spring.